Lingering hardships after Tokwe Mukosi floods

MASVINGO - With their parents’ belongings scattered by the roadside, children of school going-age play cheerfully in the mud as if everything is normal.

Barefooted and dry-lipped, they hop in a pool of stagnant water and plaster their faces with mud, oblivious of the dangers of water-borne diseases.

These are children of villagers who were forcibly evicted from their homesteads in the Tokwe Mukorsi flood basin and left exposed to the vagaries of weather at Muzvidziwa Bus Stop, about 85km along the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway.

They have been cut off schooling by the evacuation of their parents following flooding, that has also destroyed some of the villagers’ homesteads.

“We no longer go to school at all, our uniforms and books were swept away in the floods,” said Netsai Muhamba, a Grade Five pupil, who was granted permission to speak to the Daily News on Sunday by her mother, Rebecca.

“We have been here in the open for the past four days. We see our schoolmates passing by, but we cannot go anymore because anytime we can be moved to another place. We do not know if there are any schools at the places where our parents will be resettled.”

Apart from losing property, some lost their livestock, while others were evacuated with nothing but the clothes they were putting on.

They have no food and are surviving on bread alone. 

Government has since sent an SOS to the international community, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) and humanitarian aid groups to assist.

Elizabeth Pikirai, who was evacuated from Jahwa Village in Chivi, said her family was in a dire situation and complained of nagging hunger and lack of shelter.

“We were just dumped here and as you see, we are living in the open,” said Pikirai.

“No shelter for my children and they are exposed to the harsh weather that is of heavy rains pounding us on a daily basis. I am afraid my children will not escape any outbreak of diseases as a result of this.”

Government says it needs to evacuate and relocate over 4 000 families, which is about 20 000 people, and require $9 million dollars to carry out the project.

Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, Masvingo provincial minister of State, said government was frantically looking for resources to evacuate the villagers.

“Government is frantically looking for the required funds to carry out this important exercise,” Bhasikiti said. “Actually, we need about $9 million dollars to evacuate and compensate the villagers and treasury will soon be availing the resources.”

The disaster at Tokwe Mukorsi has since been declared a State disaster by President Robert Mugabe.

Local Government minister, Ignatius Chombo  who visited the stranded villagers earlier last week said government was mobilising resources and food while he begged NGO’s to assist.

“The government through relevant ministries is mobilising resources to adequately resettle these people properly. We are going to see that no one will starve so the Treasury will be releasing funds to cater for everything including funds,” Chombo said.

He said the government would increase its fleet from 15 to 40 vehicles while the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) will increase the number of helicopters and boats. Helicopters are assisting to air lift some villagers whose homesteads were marooned as heavy rains continue to pound Masvingo province.

Apart from challenges of limited vehicles to ferry the villagers, government was also facing a severe crisis of fuel shortage for its fleet.

But villagers expressed concern over empty promises from government ministers and Zanu PF officials.

“The ministers are coming here on a daily basis, one after the other but they just leave their empty promises to us,” said Memory Maguraushe. “They are saying government would release funds soon for us to have proper shelter and buy food but a week has passed and we haven’t received anything.

Our families are starving and children are not going to school but they continue to pile lies on us, its really bad.”

Local rights-groups in Masvingo have lambasted the government for dumping villagers by the road side.

Officials with the Community Tolerance, Reconciliation and Development, (Cotrad) said the move by government to dump villagers in the open was a gross violation of basic human rights.

“By dumping the villagers in the open, government has violated the right to  shelter on these people,” said Zivanai

Muzorodzi, Cotrad spokesperson. “Their children’s right to education has also been tampered with and also the right to food. These people are starving and government should be castigated for human rights violations during its course of evacuating people from the flood basin.”

He said the confusion surrounding the evacuation shows poor planning on government’s part as most of the villagers were supposed to be relocated several years ago but funds to compensate them were allegedly diverted by government officials.

Engineers constructing the dam  said floods were caused by large volumes of water that were forced to seep through the dam wall that is still under construction due to unusual above normal rainfall received his year in the province.

The province normally received 450mm of rainfall but this year it has surpassed to over 850mm.

The floods have posed danger to people living in Ngundu, Gororo, Triangle and Nyahombe.

When completed Tokwe-Mukorsi is set to be the country’s largest inland water body with a capacity to hold 1,8 billion cubic litres of water and will measure 89m.

The main dam is being constructed by an Italian company Salin Impregilio on a total cost of $155 million.

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